My experiences with home burglaries left me with a hopeless fear. As I grew older, I felt more vulnerable to attacks and less mentally capable of preventing them.
Three months after moving into the Austin community, 34 years ago, burglars welcomed us by breaking into the house.
When they broke the glass panel on the front door and entered the house that April evening, no one was home. They robbed me of a rabbit fur jacket that I bought at a thrift store. They also took my husband’s jazz record collection and my son’s grammar school graduation suit. That night my husband tried to console my dread of the burglars returning.
“The burglars were three teenagers, and they won’t be back,” my husband said.
He had gotten home before me, arriving just as the burglars were leaving the house and getting into a car. He followed them in his car, honking his horn, hoping to get the attention of a passing police car. He lost the chase as they traveled the streets and alleys of the neighborhood they seemed to know well. My husband never was able to attract the attention of the police.
Three years later at dawn on a Sunday, while my family and I were asleep, a man came into the house through the basement window. He came up to the first floor and took money, food stamps and my car keys out of my purse, which was lying on the dining room table. He left and started our car, parked in front of the house. The car alarm came on. The alarm woke my husband and me. My husband got out of bed and started downstairs. I got up and flew to the window. From my second floor bedroom window, I could look straight down at our car. I saw a white man, frightened by the piercing, siren-like alarm, get out of our car and run down the street. I could not believe what I had seen. What was a white man doing robbing a black family?
Later that the afternoon, I realized I recognized the man. He had been in the house before. A week before the burglary, I had a problem with washing machine water standing in the basement washtubs. Rather than waste time searching for a reputable plumbing company, I called a disreputable plumbing company that had left a business card in my mailbox. The burglar had come to our house with an older white man to rod out the basement pipe. The burglar noticed the loose glass in the basement window and saw it was easy to remove. After removing it, he could reach in and unlock the window without making any noise.
Before dark, my husband fixed the window, but I still did not feel safe. At bedtime, familiar noises kept me from falling to sleep. I believed ice cubes falling in the refrigerator were someone climbing in a window, a creeping floorboard was someone coming up the stairs, and the rattle of the window was someone knocking down the front door. It would happen again, my mind told me.
The more we tried to keep the burglars out, the more my fear increased. Shortly after the first burglary, Plexiglas replaced glass in the front door panels and the window in the kitchen door. When we could afford it, we had glass block installed in the basement windows. We replaced the old storm door with a double lock security door.
On Thanksgiving Day last year, we had another burglary. While we were away having an exquisite holiday, a burglar kicked in the basement door. He left a dirty green canvas bag hanging from the opened drawer of my chest, and gloves outside the basement door. He robbed me of a pearl and opal necklace and $40 in pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters.
In March of this year on a Sunday morning, a man climbed the back wall outside and looked through the blind into the kitchen window. I looked at him as he focused his eyes. He looked at me. He scared the heck out of me. After he saw me, he climbed down and walked out the back gate. I believe his intentions were to break in.
That same day, I asked my son what I could do to prevent this from happening again.
“Oh, Ma, he said, get a heavy chain and lock for the gate. They won’t mess with that.”
I told my son this would be another costly expense and an inconvenience. Then it occurred to me that no matter what I did, I could not keep burglars out. If I blocked one way in, they found another that I hadn’t thought of. It was time to stop trying because it did not allow me peace of mind to enjoy my house. Guard dogs, alarm systems and video recorders did not seem to stop them.
There was, however, one thing I could do. I did not have to have fear.